Waterbury will receive the largest boost in representation under a newly-adopted law counting prison inmates as members of voting districts where they lived prior to incarceration. The town of Enfield will see the largest decline under the change.
The two municipalities are among dozens of jurisdictions that will have their populations notably altered under the new policy. In past decades, when remapping voting districts to ensure equal representation, Connecticut and most other states have historically counted incarcerated people as residents of the districts where they are locked up.
Opponents often refer to this practice as “prison gerrymandering,” because it reduces the political influence of the largely Black and brown cities where many incarcerated people are from and it inflates the representation of typically smaller towns where prisons are often located.
After considering the idea for more than a decade, the legislature passed a bill this year, which required the Correction Department to report the home addresses of its inmate population so the state panel responsible for remapping the districts could count them there rather than where they were incarcerated during the 2020 census. Under the new law, people serving life sentences without the possibility of release will continue to be counted in their prison district.
According to the list compiled by the department, the city of Waterbury will see a population growth of 1,163 residents as a result of the changes, making it the largest municipal increase.
However, in general, the policy will be felt most acutely in towns containing correctional facilities. At the time of the census, the DOC reported 2,158 people incarcerated in prisons located in Enfield. Meanwhile, only 83 inmates listed Enfield as their home address, resulting in a net decrease of 2,075 people.
Other smaller prison towns will experience similar declines. Suffield, where MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution is located, will see a population reduction of 1,903 people after the alterations are made. Meanwhile, Cheshire will decrease by 1,405, Somers by 1,300, and Uncasville by 1,092.
Some municipalities with correctional facilities will see more moderate changes, either because less people are incarcerated there or because the decline is offset by more prison inmates listing that town as home. This is the case in some of the state’s larger cities where jails are located. Despite hosting hundreds of incarcerated people, Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven will all experience net population gains under the policy. (Bridgeport: 764, Hartford: 553, New Haven: 510)
It is worth noting that the new policy will be just one factor impacting the redistricting process conducted this year and the changes may either mitigate or exacerbate population fluctuations recorded by the 2020 census. For instance, the boost in Waterbury residents will complement a more than 4,000-person gain the city posted in the census results. Meanwhile, the change will deepen losses in Enfield, where the town’s population naturally declined by around 2,500 people over the last decade. Suffield’s population remained largely stable.
Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican whose district also contains Suffield, was the only senator to oppose the new law in the state Senate. Kissel did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday, but criticized the policy during a debate as promoting “somewhat of a fantasy” by counting people in a district where they did not physically reside during the census. The bill was more controversial in the House, where it passed 95 to 49.
On Tuesday David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called the change a step in the right direction that better reflects a reality where people are counted in communities where they have roots.
“People who are incarcerated do not feel like they have representatives [in prison districts] that are really fighting for them or listening to them and the reality is almost all these folks will go home and overwhelmingly they have families in places that are not in the prison district,” McGuire said.